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Gene therapy firm gears up for flotation on the AIM



Tracy Meharg, Invest NI, with Dr Paul Kerr of Fusion Antibodies in 2013

Tracy Meharg, Invest NI, with Dr Paul Kerr of Fusion Antibodies in 2013

Michael Cooper

Tracy Meharg, Invest NI, with Dr Paul Kerr of Fusion Antibodies in 2013

Northern Ireland is to have a new plc, as Fusion Antibodies, which specialises in gene therapies for cancers and other conditions, gears up for a listing, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The DNA sequencing firm, which is led by chief executive Dr Paul Kerr, yesterday filed a notice of intention to apply for an initial public offering (IPO) on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Its valuation for flotation has yet to be confirmed.

The move will make it only the third Northern Ireland firm to be listed in London, along with First Derivatives and Kainos.

However, it's understood the west Belfast-based biotech company surpassed sales targets for the year to March 2017, with revenues of £1.9m.

Going public is set to enable it to raise money for expansion, with plans believed to include the building of a new laboratory.

It leases its Springbank Industrial Estate headquarters from economic development agency Invest NI - which has also funded the firm, along with Clarendon Fund Managers.

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A spokesman for the company said that it was not yet ready to speak in detail about the move but confirmed it had issued a Schedule 1 announcement, confirming it is targeting a listing on the AIM.

The announcement gives December 20 as its expected first date of trading.

Details of investor support, amounts being raise, the use of funds and expected market valuation are not yet available.

Economist John Simpson said the firm was "reaching maturity" with its plan for a listing.

"They are on the leading edge of scientific work and there has always been hope that they would make this move, thereby fufilling the promise of their early years," he added.

As a Queen's University spin-out, Fusion Antibodies has also benefited by receiving support from Qubis, the QUB incubator for its companies.

Other funders include Crescent Capital. Its offer filed with the AIM yesterday also includes the estate of late Queen's University vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston as a shareholder.

If its plan proceeds, on December 20 it will join Newry-based financial software firm First Derivatives in the AIM.

Belfast IT company Kainos plc trades on the main London exchange.

Fusion's technology can help in developing biological molecules which can be used to treat diseases including cancer, coeliac disease and infections.

Colin Walsh, chief executive of Crescent Capital, said the company's listing was "tremendously exciting". He said the firm had started out in the making of antibodies for the treatment of cancer.

"That was tremendously hard as you needed extraordinary amounts of money, but the skills they have learnt doing that have made it a great platform to be of service to international pharma companies," he said.

The company was founded in 2000 and in 2016 received Invest NI funding of around £97,500 towards the creation of 15 new jobs.

At the time, Dr Paul Kerr said: "In the past four years we have humanised more than 65 novel targets for pharma and biotech clients in Asia, Europe and the USA and we foresee major growth in this area.

"The 15 new staff will ensure that we are in a position to meet the growing demand for our services."